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Parents call Andy Ballnik an enthusiastic educator who rescued the fall musical

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - 'How to Succeed' stage manager Teia Jensen, left, and Andy Ballnik, Lakeridge drama director, are among a massive crew working on the schools musical productions.Freshly hired theater director Andy Ballnik came across trouble right here in Lake Oswego city and acted quickly, keeping alive the tradition of the Lakeridge High School fall musical.

When Ballnik, also the drama teacher, came to Lakeridge this summer, “The Music Man” — known for classics such as “Ya Got Trouble (Right Here in River City)” — was the musical of choice. A few weeks before classes started, he discovered a professional theater group had opted for the production. When professionals take on a musical, amateurs must relinquish the rights. He acted fast, kick-starting “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which is due out next month.by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Andy Ballnik is Lakeridge Highs new theater director.

Ballnik said he viewed the problem as an opportunity.“The kids are having a lot of fun with it, and I love it,” Ballnik said. “It ended up turning out well in the end with ‘Music Man’ being taken from us.”

He came to love “How to Succeed” when performing in it as a high schooler, later directing it while with Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

He joined the Michigan-based theater shortly after graduating from American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York in 2003. He later landed a directorship at Walled Lake Northern High School, in Commerce, Mich., which he did while with Civic Theatre — and he realized something.

“I love working with kids,” he said.by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - 'How to Succeed' actors rode in the Lakeridge High parade last week, including, from left: Abby Zink (Hedy LaRue), Lucas Friedman (J. Pierpont Finch) and Caroline Haroldson (Rosemary Pilkington).

He earned a teaching degree from Eastern Michigan University, serving as a teacher and director at Walled Lake Northern for two years before heading to Lakeridge.

More than 30 people applied for the drama position, and a committee interviewed 15 people for the job. Three finalists then taught a 45-minute lesson, and Ballnik’s was considered the best.

“Andy’s positive record of classroom teaching and experience with highly effective directing and producing made him the unanimous choice for the committee for the new drama teacher at Lakeridge High School,” Principal Jennifer Schiele said. “It has been an absolute pleasure working with Andy this year, and I look forward to watching his opening show.”by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: DAVID KINDER - The ensemble rehearses The Company Way (reprise).

Ballnik decided he couldn’t put on “How to Succeed” without changing a few things. The musical, based on a 1952 book, earned the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s been revived twice recently, yet aspects of it remain outdated. Forged in an era when women weren’t as valued in the workplace as they are now, it irked Ballnik how women are portrayed in “How to Succeed.” So he tweaked it, making the men “look like doofuses,” lost without women.

At heart, the story remains the same with young J. Pierpont Finch (Lucas Friedman) charming World Wide Wicket Company boss J.B. Biggley (Daniel Barber) and skyrocketing from window washer to chairman of the WWW board. Finch’s love interest, secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Caroline Haroldson), stands by him even as a rival threatens his success. Meanwhile, Biggley’s relationship with secretary Hedy LaRue (Abby Zink) affects office politics.

Barber, a senior, said in the song, “A Secretary Is Not a Toy,” it’s impressive how Ballnick transformed the accompanying scene from one in which men “pinch ladies inappropriately” to a dream sequence in which the women have the power.

Zink said the number starts off with one man singing, and soon the women have taken over.

“I think the funniest part is we trap the men in a circle and whistle while circling around them,” said Zink, a junior and a dancer. “It’s like a ‘now we got you’ sort of thing. It’s cute, really cute.”

Ballnick led the choreography, and Zink said that’s an extra step not every director takes.

“Every new director really brings something different to the table and teaches you something,” said Friedman, a junior. “In this case, something I appreciate a lot about Andy is he takes his concept, and he applies it to the whole show, the heightened reality. It’s an exaggerated, cartoonish vision of the ‘60s.”

“He’s enthusiastic to work with all the kids and build the program,” said Richard Allen, the show’s scenic and lighting designer.

Stage manager Teia Jensen said the show is funny, features strong performances and has a good director. She’s also in Ballnik’s Acting II class.

“He just makes acting so much fun,” said Jensen, a sophomore.

Ballnik aims to foster a safe environment for students.

“When you act, you expose parts of your psyche and your personality — you can only do that in areas of comfort,” he said.

To keep kids comfortable, he treats them like adults.

“They want the responsibility,” he said. “They want to do something they can be proud of.”

Parent volunteer Steven Zink said Ballnik has students smiling.

“All the students are really happy to have him aboard,” Zink said.

Lakeridge parent Amy Haroldson agreed.

Ballnik is a “dedicated educator who has wholeheartedly jumped into the Lakeridge community with impressive optimism, creativity and energy,” Haroldson said.

How to attend

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16

Where: Lakeridge High School auditorium, 1235 Overlook Drive

Cost: $10 for students with an ASB card, $12 for students and ages 55 and older, $15 for adults

For advance tickets, visit LRHS.tix.com.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @jilliandaley.

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